The Pioneers: Marietta Daniels Shepard (1913-1984)
"A man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a Heaven for?" - Robert Burns
Marietta Daniels Shepard and Eleanor Mitchell, her friend for more than forty years, were killed instantly
in an automobile accident that occurred between Bedford, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C, in August 1984.
Marietta is still very much with us, nonetheless. Like a sturdy rhizome, she flourished and sent out roots
that sprout and spread year after year, often in unexpected places. She had a broad vision. Her generosity
in sharing it made her an unparalleled mentor who launched those with whom she worked onto fascinating quests
toward some small part of that vision. She set in motion events that continue to influence and change people
and institutions throughout the Americas.
|Marietta Daniels Shepard
Born in Kansas on January 24, 1913, Marietta received degrees from the University of Kansas, Washington
University (St. Louis), and the School of Library Service at Columbia University. She worked in a number
of U.S. and Latin American institutions, including the Kansas City (Missouri) Public Library; Washington
University; the Escuela Normal, Santiago, Panamá; and the Sociedad Económica de Amigos del País in Havana,
Cuba. In 1947 she went to the Library of Congress as special assistant for the First Assembly of Librarians
of the Americas, and in 1948 she joined the staff of the Pan American Union, the general secretariat of
the Organization of American States (OAS).
I first met Marietta when she lectured to the students at the Graduate School of Library and Information
Science at the University of Texas at Austin in 1964 or 1965; she was then a newly-wed, middle-aged, lively,
approachable woman. The style of her hair and clothes were the same over the next twenty years that I
knew her. Her unchanging outward appearance contrasted with her racing mind and ever-evolving goals. Marietta
was an unchanging agent of change. The content of her lecture that day was the Inter-American Library
School in Medellín, Colombia, with which she had worked for several years. The library school was one
of a few at the time and is now but one of a great many scattered throughout Latin America. Medellín was
famous then for its roses, climate and provincial grace. The change in its fame is representative of the
great changes in Marietta's world from then to now. That her vision spanned this change and continues
to have meaning reflects the strength of this firmly-rooted, unegotistical woman.
She was a political conservative but a social revolutionary, liberal and tolerant in her dealings with people,
but impatient with pessimists. She cared deeply for the dispossessed and worked for free access to information
and for public and school libraries in a region where they were hardly known-long before the personal
computer was invented or the CD-ROM imagined. She saw information networks, databases, libraries, and
government information service in every village ("If Coca-Cola can reach every village, books can too"),
as well as the culture of Latin America, expressed through a variety of media, distributed throughout
I worked in three organizations or programs that Marietta had created, each very different, but related
to and reflective of her comprehensive world view: the Seminar on the Acquisition of Latin American Library
Materials (SALALM), which is concerned with solving acquisition problems of university and research libraries;
Books for the People Fund (BPF), which sought libraries for the dispossessed, and its Proyecto LEER, which
evaluated and made available in the United States books in Spanish for children and at an easy-to-read
level for adults; and the Library Development Program (LDP) of the Organization of American States, which
has expanded to include a broad range of information programs in the fields of education, science and
It was through SALALM that I first started working for her-as a volunteer in 1969-to help organize the meeting
in San Juan, Puerto Rico, which also saw the birth of the Association of Caribbean University and Research
Institute Libraries (ACURIL). She believed that the problems of North American libraries in acquiring
material from Latin America were linked to the problems of Latin American librarians and publishers, and
that each could gain from the other if they worked together toward solution of their respective problems.
It was also at this SALALM in Puerto Rico that I learned a terrible truth about Marietta: she was a conference
vampire. With each meeting and discussion her strength grew. By 3:00 a.m. her ability to draft resolutions
was at its peak. While the weaker and younger around her drooped over typewriters or cut and pasted with
unfocused eyes, she waxed eloquent. At 6:30 the next morning she was leading a heated discussion and so
on through the week, eyes bright, mind aflame. The return to the office was even worse, because she was
no sooner off the plane than she was drafting follow-up letters and summaries. There was no rest. This
was repeated at every meeting I attended thereafter. In 1977 when she was 64 years old, the Director of
Cultural Affairs at the OAS, Henry Raymont, recommended her for special commendation. He said,
This year the lot of "technical secretary" for CIDEC [Inter-American Committee of Culture] fell
on Marietta Sheppard [sic], chief of the Technical Unit of Libraries and Archives. Not only did she perform
admirably in those demanding duties, but she worked right through CEPCIECC [Permanent Executive Committee
of the Inter-American Committee of Education, Science and Culture] and CIECC [Inter-American Committee
of Education, Science and Culture] meetings disregarding physical exhaustion that overcame many younger
members of the staff subjected to a grueling three-week schedule of meetings, proof-reading, formulation
of charts, etc., connected with the program-budget process and the subsequent work of the three committees....in
addition to the above, Mrs. Sheppard drafted resolutions requested by various missions, provided background
information to the Committees and the Council and in general provided an invaluable support that greatly
contributed to a more efficient performance.
My first paid job for Marietta was as a fundraiser for the Books for the People Fund, Inc. BPF-like SALALM
and Proyecto LEER (a project of BPF)-was housed in her office with the OAS Library Development Program.
In her mind they were all one. Marietta's husband, Jimmy, made fun of her non-profit organization, Books
for the People Fund, which he called "Books for Brats." Proyecto LEER was established just as the Bilingual
Education Act was passed. It pioneered selecting and making available materials in Spanish for use in
the United States. It was typical of Marietta to have anticipated the need for books and to be ready to
meet that need. One of Marietta's gifts, and one reason for her success, was that she was able to give
free rein to someone to carry her ideas or programs to fulfillment and to build in variations she had
not thought of. She hired Martha Tome to head Proyecto LEER and then, recognizing Martha's excellence,
she backed off to let Martha develop it and carry it to national prominence. The goals of Books for the
People Fund were broad and only partially reached; Proyecto LEER was its one big success. She wanted to
save the world with books and information. She was not afraid of taking risks. Her reach often exceeded
her grasp; but then, that is another reason why she accomplished so much.
I next worked with her through the Organization of American States. The technical assistance functions of
the OAS had expanded greatly with the Alliance for Progress, created under President John F. Kennedy,
who used the OAS as a vehicle for multilateral assistance to many countries by providing expertise to
solve problems. Needless to say, no technical assistance program could have been created without libraries
while Marietta was near. Through hounding, explanatory memos to ambassadors, charm, and persistence, Marietta
created and expanded the Library Development Program from 1959 to her retirement in June 1978. If she
had not been there, I am sure that the OAS involvement in libraries for the past 32 years would have been
minimal at best.
She worked in the highly political man's world of an international organization without compromising herself.
She flooded the political bodies that govern the OAS with information to educate the decision-makers to
understand that without libraries, archives, and information networks there could be no true development-indeed
that development can be measured by a country's ability to organize and access its own information. She
tried to make everyone see the links between publishing, legislation, free flow of information, libraries,
upward mobility and democracy. She drove them mad with her acronyms (pronounceable in English and Spanish
to stick in diplomats' heads)-e.g., LILIBU (Lista de Libros para Bibliotecas Universitarias en América
Latina), CATACEN (Catalogación Centralizada), MARCAL (MARC Cataloging for Latin America). They would make
jokes about the acronyms and complain about her long documents, but the acronyms did catch their attention,
and they funded her growing program.
The Library Development Program (LDP) had been created by Marietta in 1959 as part of the Columbus Memorial
Library, which was then in the Department of Cultural Affairs. Marietta worked in the Library and from
that vantage point began helping libraries in Latin America. In the early 1960s, she brought in Carmen
Rovira, author of a list of subject headings in Spanish, to provide expertise in standardizing technical
processes. When the Library was removed in 1969, LDP remained in the Department and in that year added
school and university libraries to its responsibilities. Shortly thereafter Marietta hired Martha Tome
to handle those areas. In 1973 the name changed to Library and Archives Development Division, to reflect
its expanded scope to archives, public and national libraries, for which I was hired. After Marietta retired,
her creation underwent a series of reorganizations that have expanded its scope to come closer to her
vision through programs in three departments of the OAS: Culture, Education, and Science and Technology.
In the 1960s and early 1970s the assistance was primarily vertical, North-South. Emphasis at this time was
given to strengthening key institutions and the library schools of the region, especially in Colombia,
Mexico, Paraguay, Brazil, and Jamaica. One of the projects for which Marietta labored with dedication
was the Inter-American Library School (EIBM); during one "time of troubles," she practically commuted
between Washington and Medellín. As president of the School's International Executive Council, she worked
tirelessly as liaison between the School and the University of Antioquia, the Rockefeller Foundation,
and the OAS. She arranged for scholarships for Latin Americans to attend the EIBM and other library schools;
in addition, she saw to it that there were four or five fellowships each year for graduate studies in
librarianship in the U.S. (These graduate fellowships have continued for over 30 years and have had an
enormous impact on the region.) LDP met the need for basic technical works to process information and
to promote standardization by producing at headquarters a variety of milestone works and such series as
Cuadernos bibliotecológicos, Inter-American Library Relations, and Estudios bibliotecológicos,
but gradually Latin American institutions took over the role of publishers.
In the 1980s, new fields that had been introduced in the late 1970s by Marietta gained more prominence in
the OAS programs: popular communication, mass media, post-literacy material, children's literature, paper
and film conservation, computer technology, and bibliographic networks.
Many considered Marietta a workaholic, but she was not. Work was not her drug. It was her love, to which
she joyously gave her unusual energy and intelligence, imagination and vision. As if the whole field of
information were not enough, she became the business partner of her husband Jimmy, whom she married in
late middle age. Her weekends were filled with big schemes that concerned coal mines, alternative energy
for automobiles, and plantation agriculture. He opened up new avenues for her energy, which actually helped
her gain more perspective on her first love. When she retired, most people said that she would either
go crazy with boredom or drive her colleagues crazy. Neither happened. She became involved in the lore
and arts of Bedford, Pennsylvania; took up landscaping (especially development of a rock garden); had
a deer-feeding station; created a Friends of the Library; and engaged in a hundred other activities. She
would stop by the LDP office to show photos of her landscaping projects, bring in copies of articles she
thought would be of use, or share professional gossip, then be on her way to something interesting that
she was involved in. As she had before she retired, she always pulled a luggage cart stacked with memos
and articles-projects she would do, and some she would never get to. She was creating until the day she
None of Marietta's many projects carries her name, but she would not have minded, because she did not work
for glory. The files of information she generated and her publications are discarded or out-of-print.
Most of the administrators of the OAS, the diplomats, government ministers and library leaders who knew
her have retired.
What is left officially with her name on it? What would a stranger learn of her from the OAS files? The
fat envelope in the OAS archives labeled "Marietta Daniels Shepard" contains 35 years of leave slips and
in-step pay increases, her designation of beneficiaries, Henry Raymont's letter of commendation, and the
announcement made to the staff when she was hired in 1947. The file is so dead for someone who seems so
alive. Bureaucracies miss the point, but she knew that. What mattered to her was that she could work through
this bureaucracy to accomplish so much that still thrives. The arm twisting, the memos, the acronyms were
not in vain. The imagination, the vision, the generosity of spirit in her character have triumphed through
the work that hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people do every day.
About the Author
Susan Shattuck Benson is Senior Specialist, Department of Cultural Affairs, Pan American Union, Washington.
© 1992 Susan Shattuck Benson
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